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Milestones and Memories

April 30, 2010

For lots of South Dakota families, including ours, May is graduation season. It’s a season of milestones and memories. If there is any one image that stands out in my mind this graduation season, it’s of a bouncing red ponytail. I first became acquainted with it somewhere in my daughter’s high school years. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but I remember it happening.

Having sworn off running for something like 20 years, I discovered that our oldest daughter had decided, after unfulfilling experiences in basketball and soccer, to try running. As someone who knows how hard it is to run alone, I began running with her. Through her middle school and early high school years, I would break stride to let her keep up. Then, that moment came when I was forced to come to grips with one of the many realities of middle age: my daughter started breaking stride to let me keep up with her. Conscious that her continuing to do so would impair her training, I swallowed my pride and began encouraging her to stride out ahead of me.

As I would watch her move out, I began to observe for the first time the image that would become so familiar: the bouncing red ponytail. Every year since, I have been following that bouncing red ponytail. Of course, it has changed colors from time to time. It’s been blond, strawberry blond, and even black for a brief experimental period. The hue has changed, but the image has been constant. I have watched that ponytail bounce through scorching heat and freezing cold and everything in between. I have watched it through rain and snow and sleet and wind. I’ve been there on tracks, indoor and outdoor, and cross country courses from east coast to west coast and all across the heartland.

As much as I’ve tried not to live vicariously through my kids, I couldn’t help but experience the great joy that came with great victories or the deep disappointment that came with painful defeats. All I know is that in the realm of human emotion, I’ve experienced it all and it has been the ride of a lifetime.

And so it is with mixed emotions that this month I will watch that bouncing red ponytail race for the last time. The person to whom that red ponytail is attached is our daughter Brittany and this month she graduates from college. It’s hard to believe for her mother and me, and even harder to imagine life without the tinge of excitement and nausea that comes before every race. Then again, nothing on this planet lasts forever. But one thing I know for certain; I will carry the image of that bouncing red ponytail and the memories that go with it for as long as I live. Thank you Brittany, and congratulations!

And congratulations to every South Dakota graduate and their families during this very special season of life. May your memories last a lifetime.